Wednesday, November 27, 2013

ECOWAS Protocol And Friction Between Ghanaian And Nigerian Businesspersons

ECOWAS Protocol And Friction Between Ghanaian And Nigerian Businessmen

Saturday, 23 November 2013 16:59
Written by Debo Oladimeji who was in Ghana
Nigerian Guardian Saturday Magazine

THE dust raised by the recent implementation of 1994 Ghana Investment Promotion Centre (GIPC) Laws is yet to settle. The GIPC Laws Act 478 1994 lists those enterprises which are reserved for Ghanaian citizens as: The sale of anything whatsoever in a market, petty trading, hawking or selling from a kiosk; operation of taxi service and car hire service; all aspects of pools betting business and lotteries, except football pools; and operation of beauty salons and barber shops.

The law does, however, provide exoneration in the application of the Schedule under section 19 (3). Where trading involves someone who is not a citizen, the practice can continue if there is “an investment of foreign capital or its equivalent in goods worth at least US$300,000 by way of equity capital” and if the enterprise employs “at least 10 citizens.”

Based on the GIPC Laws, many Nigerian businessmen’s shops were locked by Ghanaian security agents before the law was recently relaxed after the intervention of the Nigerian government and ECOWAS Parliament.

Commenting on the GIPC Laws, President of Nigerian Union of Traders Association, Ghana (NUTAG), Deacon John Igwe Ukala recalled that trouble started on May 27, 2007, when some Ghanaian security agents locked up their shops at Opera Square, Accra. About 48 shops were locked up the same day.

“We went to Abuja on August 22nd 2013 this year to thank our President, Goodluck Jonathan for his efforts to make sure that the matter was resolved and our shops were reopened. We are also pleading with the Nigerian government to make sure that such a thing will not happen again,” he said.

Chairman, Eagle Digital Association, Edmond Nkemjika, an association of Nigerian traders dealing in digital appliances in Ghana, lamented that Nigerians are still going through the same process to register their businesses in Ghana.

The President of Igbo Community, Ghana, Chief Onyema Ndaraku, who is from Imo State, said that to be identified as a Nigerian in Ghana is a problem on its own.

“Just recently, Nigerian traders in Kumasi who were trading in spare parts were harassed by the indigenous spare parts dealers who said they don’t want them.

“The truth is that the Ghanaian businessmen are afraid of competition. But where there is competition prices are better. The ordinary citizen would have the liberty to buy good at reasonable prices,” he said.

The Chief Executive Officer of City Lights, Prince Emmanuel Okeson, one of the successful Nigerian companies in Ghana, said that Ghana is one of the most stable countries in the Economic Community of West African (ECOWAS) sub-region. “That is a plus for them. That is attracting a lot of businesses to Ghana. Ghana has positioned itself to attract more investors.

“When you have a stable economy, some of the advantages are stable power, good roads, infrastructure etc. If Nigeria were to solve the problem of power and insecurity, I can tell you that not only will City Lights be ready to come back home to invest, but other companies as well,” he said.

Okeson said when people from outside Africa come to invest in the West Africa they have one or two things in mind. “That is to come and make profit and repatriate it back to their countries. When the political climate is not conducive, they take out everything they have invested and go to another country. For us Nigerians, we are not like that. Whatever profit we make we recycle it in West Africa,” he said.

He said that the Ghanaian government has fantastic foreign investment laws. “But I think the problem is that of not making the distinction or the definition of who is a foreigner. I think Ghana as member state of ECOWAS should be moving towards a common market,” he said.

Okeson added that in Nigeria, ECOWAS citizens are treated as ECOWAS citizens. “In Ghana, that is not the case. That is brewing some kind of discontent and friction between Ghanaian businessmen and their Nigerian counterparts.”

The business mogul said although the government had assured that Nigerians are free to do their businesses in Ghana,

“when you follow up to the various implementing agencies like Registrar General department or immigration, the reverse is the case. They also claim that they have not received directory from the Ministry of Trade or the government for that matter to change their laws.”

Executive Director of Equity Assurance Ltd, Ghana, Mr. Ishola Akintunde, said there are a lot of things that ought to be done by ECOWAS to improve trade in the sub-region. “It will take you about 12 hours to travel by road from Ghana to Nigeria whereas normal travelling should be about six hours. There is still a lot to be done to remove obstacles preventing smooth movement of goods and services in the sub-region.

“The situation is a little bit better in Anglophone countries. Things are more difficult in the Francophone borders. The language barrier is still there. I am not blaming Ghanaian government for protecting its economy. I also know that if Ghana should allow everybody in Nigerian to come here, there will be trouble.”

The publisher of Nigerian Eye in Ghana, Mr. Cookie Iwuoha, said the GIPC

Laws have affected the businesses of many Nigerians.

“The challenges we are facing as Nigerians is similar to what Nigerians are facing in other parts of the world,” he said.

He said every nation has the right to protect their nationals. Unfortunately, he said, there is a similar law like the GIPC Laws in Nigeria and nobody is taking about it.

“As for the traders, they don’t want to go back to Nigeria. They are asking for the Ghanaian government to give them land to build their shops”.

Managing Editor of Delight Communication West African Ltd, Accra, Mr. Bolatito Olalere, said what attracted him to Ghana was stable electricity. “Unfortunately, at the end of the day, when you look at the volume of work that I do here, it is not complimentary to the money I pay for the electricity supply. Electricity supply is not cheap in Ghana”.

He said that what the Ghanaian traders want is for the Nigerian businessmen to be doing wholesale businesses and not retailing. “Initially, Nigerians were selling their goods in wholesale but many people were owing them money. That was how some of them decided to stay back,” he said.

Vice President of Yoruba Community in Ghana, Mr. Akeem Atitebi, said a lot of Nigerians feel that Ghana is a good place to do business. “Whenever they come here, they face a lot of challenges, like accommodation. At times, we arrange with the Nigerian High Commission in Ghana to help them out.

“I was part of the delegation of the All Nigerian Community that went to the Trade Minister, Honorable Hanna Tetteh when the issue of the GIPC was very hot.

“She said that Nigerian businessmen now need to register their businesses with Registrar General with the equivalent of N30, 000. That as ECOWAS citizens, they need not to register their businesses with $300,000, but it has not been gazetted into the constitution. That is the challenge we are facing now,” he said.

Group Managing Head, Omatec Ventures Distribution, Ghana, Mr. Babatunde Dauda, regretted that there are so many levies that are impacting negatively on Nigerian companies in Ghana.

“The Ghanaian government just increased duties on so many things being imported to Ghana. They also introduced so many levies impacting negatively on foreign companies in Ghana. Not only that. You can only employ four non-Ghanaians in your company,” he said.

Dauda added that energy is very expensive in Ghana. He used to pay about N100,000 (cedis equivalent) electricity tariff monthly. “But now, it has been increased to about N350,000 per month. They have introduced so many taxes. Recently, they introduced non-indigenes identity card. It is $120 per person. You must have it before you will be given your residence permit,” he said.

Zenith Bank (Ghana) Managing Director, Mr. Daniel Asiedu said member state of ECOWAS talk about borderless nations and free movement of goods and all that, but it does not work like that in practice.

He stressed that Zenith customers used to think that if they have an account

with Zenith Bank, Nigeria, they can just walk into Zenith Bank, Ghana to withdraw money.

“They forget that even though it is the same bank, we are operating in two different jurisdictions and there are exchange controls and rules that must be followed.

“It is not yet automatic. I don’t know what will happen when the ECO currency becomes effective. Until then, the cedi will continue to rule in Ghana, the naira will continue to rule in Nigeria,” he said.

The President of All Nigerian Community, Ghana, Moses Owharo, said that the Nigerian community in Ghana would continue to sensitize Nigerians and the host country on the need to comply with the laws.

“One Nigerian recently called me saying that he does not have an international passport and he needs a drivers’ license to drive in Ghana. I told him that we have an office in Ghana that gives Nigerian passports to bonafide Nigerians?”

On her part, Branch Manager of Orange West Africa Ltd, Accra, Ghana, Rosalind Adzimahe, (a Ghanaian), said that the Ghanaian business environment is a competitive one although the political environment is not as difficult as compared to other countries in the sub-region.

She said that the GIPC laws are fair and will help to stabilize the Ghanaian economy. “I am for the government creating an enabling environment for foreigners to come and invest in the country. I believe in the law of reciprocity. I think the $300,000 is fair. It serves as equity and it can be used for importation of goods into the country. But the one million dollars is on the high side,” she said.

The President of Ghana Union of Traders’ Association (GUTA), George Kwaku Ofori regretted that there is news going on in Nigeria that the Ghanaian traders are not treating their Nigerian counterparts well without knowing the facts of the matter.

He disclosed that GUTA as an organisation some years back, did a research and realized that the GIPC Laws had been passed by the parliament or legislature and it must be implemented by institutions mandated to carry out the laws

“We just reviewed the GIPC Laws and it has been jacked to one million dollars for non-Ghanaian businessmen with employment base of 20 Ghanaians,” he said.

He added that all the 16 ECOWAS member state have investment laws within their respective countries. “And those laws regulate the activities of investors who come to do businesses in their countries.

“ECOWAS spoke about the usage of one currency like ECO. What about ECO marine, ECO air? ECOWAS heads of state are yet to implement even the ECOWAS protocols they themselves have appended their signatures.

“What is wrong if ECOWAS can implement their protocols? ECOWAS alone has about 350 million markets within the sub-region. Can’t they trade among themselves?

“If nothing is done to have a harmonised investment laws among the 16 ECOWAS countries, we are still going to ask for a blanket implementation of the GIPC Laws,” he said.

The Nigerian High Commissioner in Ghana, Ambassador Ademola Onafowokan said that the issue of GIPC Laws has been resolved.

“The efforts to implement this law led to controversy between Ghanaian and Nigerian businessmen and the Nigerian High Commission had to intervene. This matter culminated into an inter-ministerial meeting by Nigerian Minister of Trade with its Ghanaian counterpart.

“The Ghanaian government later agreed to relax the GIPC Laws on ECOWAS citizens. There was also the issue of where Nigerian businessmen in Ghana will locate their shops because non-Ghanaians were not allowed to set up their shops in the traditional markets. There was also the issue of resident permits,” he said.

According to him, the informal sector is the area that Nigerians are having problem, because the people relied on ECOWAS protocols to set up their businesses and they were told that it was not so.

“The argument made by the government is that the government wants non-Ghanaians to register their businesses to know the actual investment by foreign nationals in Ghana”.

Onafowokan said that the closing down of Nigerian shops used to be at regular intervals. As for the ID card issue, he explained that it has nothing to do with traders, but non- Ghanaians who are residents in Ghana. After getting your residence permit, you still need to pay for your ID card.

“The reason why it has generated controversy is the levies being imposed.

We have written letters to all the relevant institutions in Nigeria to be aware of what is happening in Ghana and what Nigerians are going through. There is what we call the principle of reciprocity in international relations,” he said.

He added that Nigerians constitute about 60 percent of the population of the people in West Africa. “That is why everywhere you go, you hear the story of Nigerians not that of the Togolese or others.

“Everybody is frustrated by the slow pace of progress of regional integration in the sub- region. But of recent, a lot of projects, like the West African Highway Project, are coming up to bring the dream of regional integration into reality.”

He said that Nigerian businessmen in Ghana now have to register their businesses with one percent of $300,000.

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